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Lessons for Life from the Old Testament: Ruth

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.

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Lessons for Today from the Old Testament: Ruth

Only two books in the Bible are named after women, Esther and Ruth. Leadership in the world of the east always rested firmly in the hands of men as it still appears to be the case today. However every now and then mention is made of women in the Bible, often in a supportive, child bearing role. Ruth tells the story of life for a woman in the men’s world of her time. There are many ways and many parallels with how things are in today’s world. This month has been designated as women’s month in order to allow a closer look at what is not good in the world and move towards putting is right. The dark cloud of gender based violence is ever present in every country in the world, and no less so in South Africa as our president rightly pointed out last week.

The story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi is a story not only of hardship and heartbreak, but also of hope and love on many different levels. Naomi is a woman whose life is filled with tragedy and heart- break in the brutal world of the Judges and tribal conflict about 1300 BC. Elimelech moves from Bethlehem to Moab to escape the drought that he was facing in his area of Palestine. His wife is Naomi and they have two sons who marry Moabite women after Elimelech dies. One wife is named Orpah and the other Ruth. Ten year later tragedy again strikes Naomi as both her sons die. She longs for her family and so with her two daughters-in-law she makes the journey along the King’s Highway back to Bethlehem after hearing that the drought there had ended.

Naomi eventually tries to encourage her daughters-in-law to return to their home where they could perhaps find husbands and rebuild their lives. While Oprah does this, Ruth decides to remain with Naomi making the famous statement as recorded in Ruth 1:16; “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you. For wherever you go, I will go, And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (NKJV-used with permission).

Life for an elderly widow in that time was a difficult one to say the least. Too old to join the orphans and destitute gleaning the left over wheat after the harvesters had done their job, starvation loomed. But Ruth joined those who followed the paid harvesters to pick up the fallen grain so as to eke out an existence. Here she comes to the notice of the landowner, Boaz, who proves to be a man who is kind and considerate in many ways. He puts Ruth under the protection of his workers so that she would not be abused something which seemed to be the practice at that time. Boaz however finds this young woman attractive and so one thing leads to another until he takes her to be his wife. He respects the law of kinsmen- redeemer of that time. Here someone who become a widower becomes the responsibility of another male member of the family. They have one child named Obed who became the grandfather of David.

It is interesting to find out that Boaz is the son of Rahab the prostitute who hid the spies in Jericho. So Ruth becomes part of the family of David and later on Jesus (Matthew 1:5). The story is rich in many ways. It shows clearly how human kindness overcomes evil and how God’s hand can be seen in history. As von Goethe, the German writer-poet said the story of Ruth “is the loveliest complete work on a small scale” (NKJV –introduction to Ruth pg.350).

What then can we learn from this wonderful short Old Testament book?

  1. Life is hard in every age. Here is drama as relevant as the daily newspapers; displaced people, drought and hunger, death and despair, abuse of women and desperate need.
  2. But it is also a story of hope and perseverance; of determination and hard work, of loyalty and blessings, of love and caring, of family and good choices. All characteristics that are desperately needed in this modern world just as it was then.
  3. This is a beautiful little book in the Old Testament, hidden between Judges and 1 Samuel and often enjoyed in women’s seminars and Bible Studies, but which undoubtedly deserves a much larger audience in the minds and hearts of all people in every age and in every place.
  4. It is a magical look into life in the times of olden days with important information about legal practices, marriage rituals and working conditions.
  5. It also shows that while the world has moved on into the techno age, the human reality of behaviour, both good and bad, is ever present.
  6. Only you and I can make a difference when we change our attitudes and behaviour to meet the high demands that God expects from us. This then will makes the world a better place for all.
  7. The story of Ruth, a Moabite woman does away with any claim of a particular group to have exclusive access to God. The promise made to Abraham was for all nations (Genesis 12:3). Anyone can come to God through Jesus Christ who in fact is our redeemer.

References:

  1. NKJV Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  2. Great People of The Bible and How They Lived. Readers Digest; 1971